MARY ELLEN MACINTYRE CAPE BRETON BUREAU
Published February 17, 2014 - 6:36pm
Last Updated February 18, 2014 - 7:47am
'War chest' follows office closures, say organizers
SYDNEY — The war chest has been hauled up from the basement, ready to be used to help defeat the federal Conservative government, say local war veterans.
"The plan is to build a war chest so we can have money to do the things we need to do to make sure this government falls," said Ron Clarke, a veteran who spearheaded the now-failed campaign to keep Sydney's Veterans Affairs office open.
Clarke, a 36-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, told members of the province's standing committee on veterans affairs in Sydney on Monday that vets across the country believe now is the time for action.
"What we're going to try to do is create a veterans war chest in each of the provinces … and when this is over, any money left over will go into veterans organizations, like the legions or something else," he said following his submission to the committee.
"The offices will be reopened if we get rid of the Conservatives, and I'm not saying vote for the Liberals or NDP; what I'm saying is to get rid of the government that will not reopen our offices," he added.
Nine Veterans Affairs offices in different areas of the country have closed.
To emphasize the need for hands-on, face-to-face assistance for veterans, Clarke told the committee about a friend who had been wounded in Cyprus many years ago.
"He had a bullet lodged in his chest," said Clarke. After being refused assistance from Veterans Affairs time and time again, the man committed suicide.
He said those Veterans Affairs employees who were trained to work with people with post-traumatic stress disorder were invaluable for veterans traumatized by service in wartime.
Clarke said there is no substitute for someone who is trained to ask the right kinds of questions and to help veterans access the services they need.
"I used to think (the government) just didn't understand how difficult it is for some of us to use the phone or the computer but now I've come to a different conclusion," Clarke said.
He suggested if veterans find it difficult to access the services, they won't access them, leading the federal government to conclude they don't need them, "thinking the veterans would just swallow their pride and walk away. To hell with that idea."
Clarke said there used to be 17 Veterans Affairs workers at the Sydney office looking after 4,200 veterans. Now there is just one worker at the Service Canada office, he said.
The 4,200 veterans have been added to the over 14,000 clients already served in the Halifax office.
Charlie Palmer, 93, a Second World War veteran, said he felt a strong desire to show up at Monday's meeting. "It's absolutely unacceptable that we here in Cape Breton, with an out-migration of population, that we should accept the loss of our 13 or 14 jobs," he told the committee.
"Most of my colleagues (Second World World veterans) could not make it here today; now if someone could tell me how they could make it to Halifax?
"I'm very fearful (the government) is going to say, 'Forget about down there (in Cape Breton). We don't have the population of support. … We're OK across the rest of the country. We'll balance the budget and that will do the trick,'" said Palmer.
Pam Eyking, committee chairwoman and Liberal MLA for Victoria-The Lakes, said she and committee members would put their "heads together" to come up with a response to submissions from veterans. She said the committee was in Sydney to get some ideas on how to help veterans.
The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.